Western Division graziers are using the highs to get through the lows

Will, Graham and Peter Morphett in front of their six stand shearing shed at Alma, Booligal in the midst of shearing 700 rams. Photo: Supplied
Will, Graham and Peter Morphett in front of their six stand shearing shed at Alma, Booligal in the midst of shearing 700 rams. Photo: Supplied

Graziers in the Western Division are finding a long-term management approach is allowing them to have a good year in a poor season.

The Morphetts join around 15,000 Merino ewes a year on 73,000 hectares near Booligal, north-west of Hay. Graham Morphett, who runs the property alongside his wife, Helen, and sons, Peter and Will, said instead of trying to follow the seasons they aim to balance them out.

“If we had a big season a couple of years ago, we wouldn’t buy in stock and we’d still sell our five-year-old ewes like usual because when you’ve got a fantastic season you have to think we’ll get a bad season not too far away,” Mr Morphett said.

The Morphetts choose to keep their stocking ratios of one sheep for every three to four hectares constant, meaning feed is able to build up during a good season to provide for the sheep during dry times.

Coupled with some well timed rain in December, this strategy meant that during the latest dry period they didn’t have to get rid of any more stock than usual or supplementary feed.

What they did see was a natural destocking, with lambing rates down from their usual 100 per cent to close to 50 per cent. But unlike more intensive farmers in the east of the state, out west the Morphetts don’t see this as a bad thing.

“We’re not really looking to have over 100 per cent, we just want a good lamb every year, but last year in a dry season it was quite good to have only 50 per cent because we didn’t have too many little lambs to worry about,” Mr Morphett said.

The Morphetts rely on a natural feed base of salt bush, trefoil and barley grass and with such low stocking ratios, the country is able to rejuvenate without rotating sheep around different paddocks.

“Say there’s 600 sheep in a 1600 hectare paddock, if there’s a southerly wind they’ll walk to the south and stay there for a few days and then when the weather changes they’ll walk back to the north of the paddock, giving part of the paddock time to recuperate,” Mr Morphett said. This enables them to manage sheep in the one paddock for up to four years but this season’s patchy storms meant they moved stock to make the most of where rain fell.

Mr Morphett said this low-intensive grazing method over large areas is how much of Australia was farmed 100 years ago. But, although they’ve stuck with the same overarching system and philosophy there have been some changes to both the landscape and their infrastructure.

“We now need to have a couple of extra paddocks to run the same amount of stock,” he said.

“The other big change is our water system, we’ve gone from using rain water catchments and windmills to putting in bores, 40 to 50 kilometers of polypipes and stacks of troughs.”

The Morphetts sell all their wethers so they can spread out their ewes, with the aim to get most wethers to market by the end of August, before the majority of graziers.

But although there’s a good price for the lambs, it’s the wool that has really reached new heights.

“The wool is selling extremely well at the moment,” Mr Morphett said.

Of their 15,000 ewes, 2500 are from their Alma Merinos stud, made up of 30 per cent horned and 70 per cent poll Merinos.

“The horn ram bloodlines are from Collinsville in South Australia and the poll is from Glenville on the Eyre Peninsula,” Mr Morphett said.

Their wool classer, Fionn Lindsay-Field, said through their ram selection the Morphetts had been able to produce large framed, high-fertility Merinos that remain bale-fillers no matter the season.

“Their wool is soft, bright, has a good staple length and because of its grease content, virtually unaffected by dust,” Mr Lindsay-Field said.

Mr Lindsay-Field put the wool’s ability to remain unpenetrated by dust down to the sheep’s Glenville bloodlines.

Their Merinos currently cut an average of 21 microns, where much of the market demand remains.

Mr Morphett said he couldn’t remember a time where wool prices had remained so high for such a long period.

“At the moment it’s fantastic and we can get a sheep that will self-produce and half can go to meat and half can go to wool,” he said.

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